The U.S. Department of Transportation issued an enforcement notice to airlines late last week, telling them that: “in the context of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, that U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.”
DOT’s notice also said that the obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).
The Department indicated that it has been receiving an increasing number of complaints and inquiries from ticketed passengers, including many with non-refundable tickets, who describe having been denied refunds for flights that were canceled or significantly delayed.
In many of these cases, the passengers stated that the carrier informed them that they would receive vouchers or credits for future travel.
The enforcement notice indicated that because the COVID-19 public health emergency has had an unprecedented impact on air travel, DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office will exercise its enforcement discretion and provide carriers with an opportunity to become compliant before taking further action.
However, the Aviation Enforcement Office will monitor airlines’ refund policies and practices and take enforcement action as necessary.
Go to https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/enforcement-notice-regarding-refunds-carriers-given-unprecedented-impact-covid-19 to see the full enforcement notice.